Editor’s Note: All three reports were prepared before the IPCC’s August 9 release of part 1 of the Sixth Assessment Report, which only confirms the urgency of the interns’ recommendations!
Editor’s Note: This is the primary report from the Climate Action Project (summer 2021) ; it is complemented by reports that focus on development (‘Build Sustainably — for Business Success and a Livable Future‘) and education (‘Climate Change Education‘). Also available in complete PDF versions:
- Implementing Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan – Policy Brief (PDF)
- Climate Change Education (PDF),
- Build Sustainably — for Business Success and a Livable Future (PDF)
Climate change is destroying civilization as we know it. Temperatures, precipitation, flooding, and other extreme weather events are increasing in number and severity. A consensus of climate scientists recently warned that we are reaching irreversible changes in temperature, species extinction, and sea level rise. On our current track, we are not even close to meeting the UN’s goal of staying under the 1.5 degree threshold that would minimize the worst impacts of climate change. Each year we fail to act, the level of difficulty and cost to reduce emissions goes up. The UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report shows that every year of inaction means that the changes that need to happen before 2030 become more radical. Inaction will cost more — not only in dollars, but in human lives.
Globally and locally, the people with the least representation and the smallest environmental impact are those who are most affected by climate change. The climate crisis reflects the same power dynamics that reinforce racism, white supremacy, and class struggle. So, climate change affects different people within our community differently. Climate action and intersects with issues of class, race, age, and ethnicity. We need to acknowledge the socio-economic and generational injustices with our responses. Though we need to act now, we also need to consider environmental/climate justice conflicts.
Low-income communities and developing nations feel the effects of climate change disproportionately. We can see this unfairness in our own community — low-income residents and residents of color live in the areas that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, like South Bethlehem. Since pavement and most buildings absorb and re-emit heat from the sun, a heat island effect occurs in urban areas with dense development and insufficient greenery. Excess heat causes respiratory distress, heatstroke, and heat exhaustion. Low-income residents also are less financially able to adapt to the effects of climate change, which may cause houses to flood and increase heating and cooling costs.
Our children and future generations will bear the worst burdens of global warming — a future with more “natural” disasters, worse air quality, a climate refugee crisis, extreme heat, and food scarcity. They will have to deal with problems that can no longer be mitigated, but only adapted to. They do not have voices in the political process to represent them. A large majority of the politicians and lobbyists who make the decisions will not feel the effects of their inaction. Failing to take action, or prioritizing short-term profits over long-term climate action disproportionately puts the brunt of climate effects on the people who are too young to stand up for themselves or who are yet to be born. A main tenet of the ‘American Dream’ is for our children to have a better life than we and the generations before us did. Unless we act swiftly, essentials such as clean air and water, will be hard to come by. We need to act now.
If we’re not careful, critical environmentally-conscious options — such as organic food, zero-emission vehicles, and net-zero buildings — will be available only to the privileged. These are important to balance when the need for change is so urgent. Failing to take action, or prioritizing short-term profits over long-term climate action, puts a disproportionate burden on the people who can’t stand up for themselves. What will your children and grandchildren think if you chose to prioritize a quick buck over their survival?
Implementing the Plan
Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan is a call for the city to take action. The purpose of this document is to highlight measures to help implement the plan. Inaction creates even graver consequences for the future. We are calling for actions to mitigate climate change, to adapt to the predictable consequences of years of inaction, and to build resilience.
Mitigation deals with reducing greenhouse gas emissions through reducing driving, switching to renewable energy, and cutting unsustainable levels of consumption. Adaptation is not a substitute for mitigation — it means preparing for the predictable consequences of global warming and the climate emergency, such as heat waves, flooding, and extreme weather events by measures such as designating cooling centers for residents without air conditioning and updating the stormwater system to help prevent flooding. Resilience is the capacity to handle unforeseen aspects of the climate crisis, a system that has the capacity to act quickly and flexibly. Some forms of climate action both mitigate and adapt. Green space, for example, acts as a carbon sink and reduces the heat island effect, but it also creates more permeable land in the event of flooding and severe weather.
Because of the urgency of the climate crisis, we all need to work for mitigation, adaptation, and resilience simultaneously — starting right now. This cannot wait, because the effects of climate change are already reaching levels scientists didn’t expect to be a reality for another 30 years. The past is not a good guide — our failure to act in the past jeopardizes the survival of future generations. Our community needs to wholly reorganize its priorities to focus on climate action.
COMMUNITY RIGHTS — Communities can take action to safeguard their primary respon- sibility:to protect the health and safety of their residents. Despite clear Constitutional protection, the state legislature often pre-empts municipalites from fulfilling their duties.For example, after being targeted for disposal of fracking waste, Grant Township, PA worked with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) to create a community rights ordinance to ban activities such as operating injection wells.
See ‘A Fundamental Right to a Healthy Environment’ (National Law Review)
Build a Solid Foundation
- Adopt the Climate Action Plan (CAP) and GHG Reduction Targets in accord with the City’s commitment under the Global Covenant of Mayors. [CAP, pg 12]
- Establish and staff an Office of Sustainability to coordinate among city departments and community organizations to reduce carbon emissions, improve the quality of life of the community, and prepare the city for climate change by working to develop city-wide understanding that a healthy climate is essential for a healthy community. Focus on collaboration and including some projects that already have strong support. [M 3.1]
- Assert the primacy of the City’s responsibility to protect the people who live, work, and attend school here by adopting a Right to Healthy Climate Ordinance to prioritize Article I, §27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. [M 3.5]
- Establish an Environmental Justice Council to guide integration of EJ considerations into every aspect of municipal operations and planning, including all city authorities, boards, and commissions, as well as CAP implementation. [EJ 1.2]
- Enforce current ordinances that protect the health, safety, and resilience of the community, such as requiring source separation by residents, businesses, and institutions, and prohibiting emission of dust, fumes, gases… that cause any damage to human or animal health or to vegetation.
- Explore ways to complete the assessments, studies, and plans called for in the CAP [page 187]. The CAP identifies areas that are vulnerable to extreme heat, pollution, and flooding, but we need additional in-depth assessments as called for in the plan.
- Work with the EAC to pass a single-use plastics ban to reduce GHG, litter, and the micro-plastic pollution in our food and water. Ban single-use plastics and mandate that businesses and food service providers use biodegradable food packaging and offer reusable takeout containers. [FW 1.1]
- Recognize that natural gas is a major source of the GHG that cause climate change. While there are renewable forms of gas— such as landfill gas and biogas — they are not generally available here. It is important to promote their development instead of fossil-fuel gas.
Prepared by Devon Jewell, Alexandra Ludman, Margaux Petruska, and Isaac Weber.
About the Alliance and the 2021 Summer Internship Project on Climate Action Planning
The Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley is a nonprofit organization that focuses on a wide variety of environmental and social justice issues that contribute to more-sustainable communities. Based in Bethlehem, PA, the Alliance has been active since 2003 and offers summer, fall, and spring internships to college students in the area to work on projects with the aim of creating a more sustainable Lehigh Valley.
In previous years, we’ve tackled Campus Sustainability, Sustainability in Healthcare, Interdisciplinary Teaching on Climate and Sustainability, Brewing Sustainability (sustainability for the craft brewing industry), and Sustainability for Independent Cafés and Restaurants, and Climate Action Planning for the Lehigh Valley.
This summer, Devon Jewell (Moravian Academy ‘23), Harrison Kim (Parkland High School ‘22), Alexandra Ludman, (University of Delaware ’21), Margaux Petruska (Lehigh University ’21), and Isaac Weber (Dartmouth College ‘22) researched and developed priorities for implementing the Bethlehem Climate Action Plan (above), for helping developers be more sustainable, and for integrating climate change education in the schools.
Although we were not able to meet with everyone we hoped, we appreciate the opportunity to have met with many people who provided great insight into what is possible in the area of climate action and sustainable development, including developers and contractors who shared their expertise with us.
- Katie Bartolotta – Green Builders United
- Megan Basile – teacher
- Karen Beck-Pooley – Environmental Policy Program, Lehigh University
- Kate Semmens Berti – Science Director at Nurture Nature Center (coordinator for Easton CAP)
- Martha Christine – teacher (retired)
- Larry Eighmy – The Stone House Group
- Breena Holland – Environmental Policy Program, Lehigh University
- Sigi Koko – Architect, Build Naturally
- Jana Korn – Climate Action Organizer, POWER Interfaith
- Rachel Leon – Bethlehem resident (SouthSide), city council candidate
- Chad Nicholson – Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund [CELDF]
- J. William Reynolds – Councilman, City of Bethlehem
- Lynn Rothman, Chair Bethlehem EAC
- Kelly Sanders – C-PACE program, Sustainable Energy Fund
- Anna Smith – former director of CADC B
- Dan Sobrinski – VP Energy and Sustainability, WSP Consulting
- Kiera Wilhelm – former Director at Fig Bethlehem, city council candidate
Related reports from this project:
- Build Sustainably — for Business Success and a Livable Future
- Climate Change Education
- Implementing Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan (above)
PDF versions of all three reports:
- Implementing Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan (PDF)
- Climate Change Education (PDF)
- Build Sustainably — for Business Success and a Livable Future (PDF)